Chia and the Fox Man
In Chia and the Fox Man, a mother and son author duo, Barbara Jacko Atwater and Ethan Jacko Atwater, share a traditional Dena’ina story that has been told for generations. To celebrate the launch of their new book, we asked Barbara and Ethan to tell us more about the storytelling culture from their Dena’ina heritage.
Here are some of the intriguing things we learned!
Sukdu (stories) are used by the Dena'ina People for many reasons
Sukdu is Dena’ina for story. The Dena’ina used the sukdu to teach their young about their culture. For example, many sukdus are moral tales that teach young people what it was to be Dena’ina. The stories passed down through the generations instill in their plot-lines many lessons. Sukdus teach how to behave properly, how to treat animals and nature respectfully, how to survive difficult situations, and importantly, tell universal truths that apply to all people
Storytelling was (and is still) communal
Storytelling in Dena’ina culture was usually done as a community. While some stories were personal, most of the stories were shared by all of the village. The stories were meant to be dynamic, and there were various versions told by different people. It was not considered rude for another adult to interrupt the main storyteller and add something they felt should be included. After the brief interruption, the main storyteller would go on telling the rest of the story.
Sukdus brought power
Young men who were considered potential leaders were encouraged to travel to other Dena’ina communities to learn more stories to help them be wiser and stronger leaders.
How the Atwaters maintain the Dena'ina legacy
In writing these Dena’ina stories, we asked the Atwater family what their role is in maintaining this legacy of sharing Dena’ina sukdus. “We are transforming the stories into a format that is familiar to the general public, so that they are accessible and relatable to a larger audience. While we do this, we are always careful to stay true to the original, traditional story. We are so thankful to our Uncle Walter for telling us to share the stories in our own way,” says Ethan.
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